St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. File photo.

Intensive care units across Southern California will exceed their capacity by Christmas Eve if nothing is done to stem the spread of COVID-19, state officials warned Monday. ICUs house the sickest patients and the most at risk of death.

Capacity in ICU units, where about 25% of COVID-19 hospitalizations wind up, is now at 74% in Southern California; by Dec. 24, that will reach 107% at the current pace of infections, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

If this trend continues, “we are going to have to take much more drastic measures,” the governor said at a media briefing, warning that large areas of the state could see the return of a more restrictive stay-at-home order.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Health and Human Services Secretary, said the current heavy caseloads—the state on Monday reported another day over 14,000 new cases—have not yet shown up in hospitals. “Those will come later,” he said.

Health officials are also preparing for a wave of cases in the next two or three weeks that could be tied to Thanksgiving gatherings.

When it comes to overall capacity, hospitals in Southern California are currently at 44% capacity. By Dec. 24, that is expected to reach 79%, Newsom said.

Los Angeles County officials on Monday reported that 2,185 people are in the hospital for COVID-19; just one week ago, that number was 1,473.

Another related number that has county officials worried: There has been a sharp rise in cases among health care workers, with 700 of the 5,150 new cases reported Monday being among those who work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and other medical settings.

Officials have said consistently that the problem is not physical hospital beds, but rather the staffing needed to tend to patients in those beds.

The situation is even worse in other parts of the state, including Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley. California broke a record Sunday with more than 7,400 coronavirus hospitalizations across the state.

State officials said they have been working with county officials all weekend to ensure that they are prepared to handle the surge that is expected.

The state has the capacity to set up 11 surge facilities, adding roughly 1,862 beds, across the state in less than four days if needed, officials said.

Melissa Evans is the executive editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-437-5814.